Satkosia Tiger Reserve - Chottkei Nature Camp, Satkosia

We had been planning for a getaway during the short Durga Puja school vacation. The monsoon this time had lingered on well into the first week of October and the weather was just about cool with the sun playing hide and seek all day. We zeroed in on the Satkosia Tiger Reserve situated in the Angul district of Odisha, a good 500 km from our city. The plan was to spend a day at the Chottkei Nature Camp and then move on towards Puri via Cuttack. Undeterred by the super cyclone warning on almost all news channels, we pulled out of Bokaro on the 10th of October afternoon. The plan was to break the journey somewhere around Jamshedpur and then continue the next morning for Angul, planning to reach the Eco-Tourism office at Angul by 01 pm.
The journey to Jamshedpur continued smooth and easy on the NH-32, till about 10 km before the town of Chandil. Here we reached a 1km stretch where whatever little left of the highway was what seemed to be like a deep gorge flanked by mud embankments on both sides. An alternate path that used to be a detour had been blocked by the villagers for Puja Pandal construction. I inched my Toyota Etios slowly through the wet, muddy and mucky track positioning my wheels on the embankments when after about 10 minutes we found ourselves head-on with a truck coming from the opposite side. There was no way either of us could pass. We remained stranded for a good 10 minutes with neither of us refusing to budge. Finally, as the truck was loaded and the driver refused to reverse, I had to relent and moving backward for about 20 meters and turned into a village street so that the truck could pass. Once the truck was through, we again painstakingly moved on the ‘road’, with the bottom getting scraped by the boulders whenever the ground clearance could not take it anymore. I was worried as a breakdown at the very start meant putting off the journey and a whole lot of other troubles like getting the vehicle towed to the service center. However, the Etios managed to pull through and we reached the 10th Milestone motel on NH-33 just about 5kms before Jamshedpur at about 6 pm. We had made planned to spend a quiet night away from the hustle and bustle of Jamshedpur city so that after having a good night's sleep, we could restart early the next morning.
The next morning we started at 6 am and zipped across Jamshedpur in the sparse traffic, taking the Tata-Hata-Rairangpur (NH-50 & NH-49) highway. The drive was pleasurable as the tarmac was smooth and there was no heavy traffic. The highway culminated at Jashipur on NH-6 (Kolkata-Mumbai highway) and we moved on towards Kendujhar. The highway runs through a verdant mountainous terrain for about 50 km after Kendujhar with innumerable waterfalls all along the highway.




Taking intermittent refreshing breaks, we reached Pallaharha and leaving the NH-6 took the NH-23 to Talcher and onwards to Banerpal, a distance of 80 odd km. It was 12:30 pm when we reached Banerpal, and Angul was still 15kms on the NH-42. The traffic was heavy, being the Puja time and I soon realized that repeated honking would not affect the two-wheelers. Driving carefully and asking for directions to the Circuit House (the Ecotourism office is near Circuit House) we reached the Forest Office of the DFO, Satkosia range at about 1:30 pm. I was surprised to find the office open. The lady in charge said that the Puja holiday had been canceled due to the cyclone threat. After paying a sum of Rs 2800 (inclusive of breakfast, lunch, and dinner) for one cottage at the Chottkei Nature Camp and getting the receipt we went on the lookout for lunch as we still had to cover 60 km from Angul to the Nature Camp.

Having had lunch we were once again back on the highway. Crossing Angul, we traveled for about 10kms and took a left turn on a deserted but metalled road with an arrow sign “Satkosia”. Traveling further for about 15-20 km we reached the forest department check post at Pampasar. Our accommodation slip was checked, and after payment of the nominal entry fees to the Tiger Reserve we were on our way to the Purunakot village.



We now found ourselves right in Mother Nature’s lap and were bewitched by the sylvan beauty of the surroundings. A few more km inside, the forest canopy grew thicker and the temperature went down quickly. I reduced speed to soak in the wonders nature lay before us. On either side of the road were picturesque villages with bamboo huts. On both sides, we could also see magnificent wooded mountains. The topography being undulating, we had to drive through forest streams with water flowing over the road wherever the road passed through a topographical trough. Taking the un-metalled village road at Purunakot, we slowly covered 5 km through thick forests to reach Chhotkei Nature Camp at 4 pm.

There were 5 cottages in the camp and a common dining space cum reception at the center of the property. We were greeted by the staff in uniform and a customary welcome "tika" applied on our forehead followed by hot cups of tea and biscuits. The management of the Nature Camp has been entrusted to the villagers from the Chhotkei village on a profit-sharing basis. The villagers have been trained in hospitality management by the Forest Deptt. Kudos to the Govt of Odisha for this innovative community development initiative. They are courteous and go out of their way to make visitors to the camp comfortable. Our luggage was taken by them to the first cottage named "Tiger Cottage". All cottages are made of eco-friendly material. Even the bricks used are compressed earth bricks. There is a fairly large room and a passage that leads to a door that opens to a large verandah at the back of the cottage. The bathroom was clean and all the windows had been covered with a fine mesh to keep away mosquitoes and insects. We were quick to settle down, tired after a long journey. The sky was cloudy and a slight shower took place but there was no sign of “phailin”.

The entire property is powered by a solar cell panel and a small generator for running the pump to fill the overhead tanks.

A few more pictures

After about an hour I realized that we haven't received any calls on our cellphones for quite some time. A look at the screen gave us the answer. There is no signal! No BSNL, no Reliance. In fact, there was no Landline at the property too. There was a TV at the reception but we were told that the subscription had expired and timely renewal had not been done. So no mobiles, no landlines, no news, and silence everywhere. No noisy tourists too, and absolutely no connection with the outer world. WOW!! This could only be termed heavenly in today's world of intensive communication systems. A perfect place to rest, sleep and rejuvenate with the lungs getting the much-needed oxygen they are so sadly deprived of in the polluted cities.

We planned to visit Tikarpada (15 km from Chhotkei) to view the Mahanadi and the Gharial Breeding Centre the next day after check out. At about 5:30 pm, we were informed that one of the staff-cum-guide would take us on a short nature walk if we are interested. We got ready and went for a walk on a path through the dense forests surrounding the camp. The path was wet from the shower and having walked for about 1.5kms, we returned as it was growing dark. The only animal sighting for us was a large forest owl and a bushy-tailed fox.

In the evening, dinner was served at 9:30 pm in the common dining hall. It was simple, hot, fresh, and tasty. After dinner, we were soon off sleeping like dead logs only to be awakened late at night by the sound of thunder and heavy rains lashing on the roof and windows. Yes, our worst fears had come true. Pre cyclone showers had started. In the morning the wind had subsided and the intensity of the rain had also diminished. We were happy with these positive signs from the elements. Having had breakfast at 8:00 am, we checked out and started for Tikarpada to have a glimpse of the Mahanadi and the famous gorge. After about 7-8 km we came across a flooded forest stream flowing across the road. The velocity, as well as volume of water, made us drop our plans as driving through would be too risky. Dejected, we turned back for the return journey to Angul. The next course of action (whether to go to Puri or back home) would be decided after seeing the weather condition at Angul. At the gate, we were again asked to show the entry permit which I had been careful to keep in my wallet and sign the visitors’ register. After an hour’s drive, we were in Angul.

The sky was overcast and rain was intermittent. Having come so far, we decided to take the risk and started onwards towards Cuttack-Bhubhaneshwar-Puri. Coming across heavy to very heavy rains between Dhenkanal and Cuttack, we wondered whether it was the correct decision. Nevertheless, we kept on going and reached the four-laned NH-5 and turned right towards Bhubhaneshwar. At this point, the rain had stopped, and we hoped that it would remain the same henceforth. However, it was not to be and rains again started just as we were about to reach BBSR. At BBSR we took the left turn on the newly constructed Puri highway but it was then that we came across such heavy rain and winds that visibility reduced to almost zero and the wind force was such that it seemed that the Etios would soon take off the runway-like highway. It was 3 pm then. And we knew that Puri visit was also not to be. Abandoning the plan, we again turned back, having traveled for about 15-20 km on the Puri highway. We drove continuously for 6 hrs and reached Kharagpur at 9 pm. We checked into a decent-looking hotel off the highway and the next day returned to Bokaro via Bankura-Puruliya driving again in heavy rains, with a promise to cover Tikarpada and Puri in the next visit.